You Can’t Take the ‘Social’ Out of Housing
I still recall that grey December day. We’d been living in our house for 2 years and built a good friendly relationship with the owners. They were good people. They lived just around the corner; we passed them regularly in the street and stopped to catch up. How civilised.
In one of those chats over the carefully pruned shrubs with Mrs Landlord, I’d shared how the company my husband had been working for had recently gone bust. It was a difficult time. Later that day I had an unexpected visit from Mr Landlord. We stood uncomfortably in the hall and he explained how, it was ‘nothing personal’ but with the change in our circumstances he was going to amend the contract so it was for a shorter period of time. This was because: ‘I’m a businessman; you’re a businesswoman’, he just had to make this change to protect his interests.
Well, I’m not a businesswoman now and I wasn’t then either. In this particular context, I was in fact a working mother of 1 with another on the way with a husband who had the misfortune of working for a company that had just crashed. At that point, business was far from my mind – I was just trying to protect my interests – aka: my family, my reputation, my status and on a personal level my concept of the relationship I thought I had built with the landlords. Clearly there was a bit of a clash going on here.
In my mind, I had been living in a house for 2 years. I had been a good tenant. I had paid everything on time and as this couple themselves described in a reference when we left them, we were ‘exemplary tenants and treated the home as if it were our own’ (err, in a good way not a bad way!) We did. In fact we still think back to that particular house with enormous affection. However, even with all that good karma built up behind us, still the first thought in the LLs mind was that I might put him in a tricky position that would have some financial and undesirable impact on him. You could imagine the cogs clicking: ‘renters’ ‘children involved’ ‘might not be able to get them out’ ‘responsibility.’ The scales were out and merits and demerits were weighted up.
But there is an important point to be made here. Recent policies surrounding housing have encouraged Buy-to-Let landlords in particular to see property management as a business. Like my Mr Landlord they are businesspeople but they would be wrong to assume that we tenants see the relationship as such. However, it is worth saying that we rile against the landlords when actually they are only in the positions they are in because the state put them there. And the state put them there with the promise that they could make money full stop. Here is a perfect situation for you who have the means to take full advantage of market forces and beneficial lending rates and make an absolute killing. There was no attendant expectation or suggestion that responsibilities in the role of landlord would extend much beyond a gas check a year and perhaps essential repairs. (And conveniently, tenants might actually put up with a lot more discomfort with private landlords out of a sense of fear and insecurity and even essential repairs may be overlooked.)
Nye Bevan, in post Second World War Britain acknowledged the economic argument which would allow extortionate rents for high demand but he chose to put the social above the economic. It wasn’t ‘orthodox’ to think this way he said, but neither was it right to continue with policies which meant the ‘well-to-do’ could prosper at the expense of the have-nots. He acknowledged that the state should accept responsibility for providing good homes for those in a community who could not do that for themselves http://bcove.me/x1310dbm.
I had a boyfriend once who struggled with responsibility; that is, primarily he struggled with the word, he couldn’t actually even say it but it later became apparent he had similar difficulties demonstrating it. ‘I didn’t ask for this resp..repins..that thing I can’t say’, he would bemoan. Like that poor boy, Buy-to-Let landlords have perhaps unwittingly taken on a whole mass of responsibilities whether they like it or not, perhaps the most fundamental of these being that we, the tenants need them to help us to feel safe and secure. That’s not in an ‘it’s your obligation’ but in a human need kind of way (though in my book, they are one and the same, actually).
But, I digress, getting back to my original story, I was really upset by Mr Landlord’s response at the time but in retrospect I suppose I can’t blame him. It did get me thinking though that we need to acknowledge that letting out a house is not actually just letting out a house. It’s allowing others to make a home in a house which has your name on the deeds. Those others will live their lives in your house and so you become part of their lives too. The whole range of human experience will be in there; you don’t get to pick and choose a frozen period in time where no circumstance changes; where no people alter. You kind of have to grow together. It’s about building a relationship with each other and fostering a culture of mutual respect. At the end of the day, try as you might, you just can’t take the social out of housing.